Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2007

Teachers partner, expand insight

September 27, 2007

While a form of team planning has been part of teaching in the Lansing school district for years, administrators are taking it one step further this year by creating Professional Learning Communities that are considered one of the top priorities in the future success of Lansing students.

These communities are being formed in all of Lansing's four schools where regular time is being scheduled for teachers to come together for learning within a supportive, self-created community.

Donna Hughes, assistant superintendent of Lansing schools, said the communities would allow teachers to build a culture that is based on collaboration, which in the end should allow for every student to get equal access to the curriculum.

"Whenever you communicate, everyone benefits," Hughes said.

Her hope is that the learning communities will allow teachers to become less isolated and begin communicating to help the education process become less fragmented. With everyone supportive of the goal to provide equal opportunity learning to all students, Hughes said there was no doubt the learning communities would be a success.

At the beginning of the school year, a special Curriculum Leaders Group met to discuss the idea of Professional Learning Communities. They looked at research and discussed the feasibility of extra meeting times in Lansing's schools and, in the end, Hughes said they decided it was a valuable venture.

At Lansing High School, principal Steve Dike said it was a challenge to establish the small learning communities because the nature of high school was that every student saw about seven different teachers throughout the day. That, however, did not deter Dike, who said he saw the need for more open communication.

Dike divided teachers into cross-sectional groups that focused on departmental, grade level and school improvement issues. Each week is designated to one of the groups to meet.

Historically, Dike said, administrators and counselors meet to discuss the same topics, but he said by bringing teachers into the mix, the school is benefiting from the perspective of the people on the front lines with the students everyday.

He said that in the high school atmosphere, it is so easy for teachers to be isolated to their own island and not really understand what is happening with the students on a different level than the one class where they see them.

Dike said already he is seeing the teachers begin to reach out to their colleagues and provide teachers in other departments insight on certain teaching methods they found to work with particular students. Dike added that he hoped that the communication would also lead to smoother transitions as students moved up grade levels.

The transition to a new grade level is also a concern for Lansing Elementary principal Tim Newton. He said that the learning communities would help teachers focus on essential elements of the curriculum that would benefit students as they moved on in school.

He said it is impossible to learn an entire curriculum set up by state standards, but by discussing among teachers what is most important, teachers can stop only teaching and focus on learning.

Newton said that learning takes more time, so by establishing goals teachers won't have to waste theirs or the students' time rushing to lightly touch on every topic.

"You can have a teacher go out there and do a perfect textbook class, but if the kids aren't learning, something needs to change," he said.

The teachers in the elementary school are broken up into teams among grade levels as well as a team for special sections such as art, music and physical education.

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